SPRINGFIELD – Every year the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Committee highlights community members who contribute to the development of the Latino community be it through sports, politics, education, health and wellness or the arts.
Here are the 2019 Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Ambassadors:
Grand Marshal: State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield
State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez spends his time between Springfield and Boston advocating for the rights of his many constituents, a large portion of which are Latinos living in the city. He has seen the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade develop from just a flag raising to a parade featuring hundreds of marching contingents and thousands of spectators.
As Grand Marshal he will lead the parade on Sunday Sept. 15 as it makes its way down Main Street.
“It is an immense honor to receive this. I am so humbled by the acknowledgment,” he said.
Gonzalez grew up in New York City and always attended that parade with his family. Later when he moved to Springfield he never missed a parade and at one point became one of the coordinators of the parade.
“This recognition today is a culmination of all o those years of being excited about being part of this amazing celebration,” he said.
Gonzalez said a highlight of the parade is representing Puerto Rican pride.
“You can say you are Puerto Rican, but to live it is so important. It’s not only about celebrating our traditions, but transferring them through our actions. This also gives people from other cultures an opportunity to celebrate with us and learn about our traditions, our food, our prinicipios (principles) that our parents taught us,” he said. “It’s easy to wave or raise a flag, but but it’s more important to have actions that you’re proud of. To me that is the real essence of being Puerto Rican, not just to say it but to live it.”
Madrina (Godmother): Betty Medina Lichtenstein
Betty Medina Lichtenstein is a New York native who moved to Holyoke with her family in the 1970′s. She is the executive director of Enlace de Familias and was instrumental in housing displaced families after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“When I was told about this honor I resisted at first because I primarily do my work in Holyoke, but after some back and forth with the committee I accepted it and it is a real honor to be nominated and chosen outside of the community where I have worked for 42 years,” she said. “It’s truly beyond words how I feel. I have always watched the Puerto Rican Parade in Springfield and have watched it grow into this magnificent event that thousands of people come out to see.”
Medina Lichtenstein said she is thrilled to participate on Sunday.
“Puerto Rico is in my veins and being part of an event that celebrates our culture, our ancestry, our island that has gone through so much in the past two years and has gone through so much since its inception, that is where I get to celebrate who we are as people,” she said. ” I’m so proud of who I am, who my ancestors are, our people and our island.”
Padrino (Godfather): Norman Roldan
Born and raised in the North End neighborhood of Springfield Norman Roldan has spent a lot of time working with the Springfield Public Schools to improve the educational environment for the city’s youth, 66 percent of which are Latino students. He is the chairman of the School Building Commission and a former member of the Springfield School Committee.
“I went through the process of segregation and desegregation of schools. I’ve seen positive changes, but there is a lot of room to grow,” he said. “Wherever I see injustice for our youth and our students that’s my focus, to support our youth as they bring about change.”
Roldan said he grew up watching the parade and is honored to be chosen as this year’s padrino (godfather).
“To see this parade from its first year to where it is now has been so joyful for me. Every year I see it grow and improve. We are Americans and we are proud of that, but we don’t give up our culture or our identity and that’s so important,” he said.
Cultural Ambassador: Maria Luisa Arroyo
A native of Springfield’s North End Maria Luisa Arroyo is a multilingual poet and an assistant professor of writing and first year studies at Bay Path University.
One of her greatest passions is education and literacy, so for the fourth year in a row she will be marching the parade route while handing out free, brand new books to children.
“Our contingent is called Juntos Leemos, Juntos Aprendemos (Together We Read, Together We Learn) which fits in beautifully with this year’s parade theme ‘Estamos Unidos’ (We are united), because together we are so much more powerful,” she said.
Arroyo also hosts live poetry events at the Springfield Library. “Our libraries are our cultural centers,” she said.
Arroyo said no matter where she has traveled or lived and no matter what language she is speaking she is and will always be Puerto Rican.
“There is a difference between being assimilated and acculturated. I’m an acculturated Puerto Rican. My first language is Spanish, but they broke my tongue into English, my third language is German and my fourth language is Farsi. To me unidos (united) means let me develop my own identity without judgement. It’s never to late to recobrar nuestra lengua (recover our native tongue),” she said.
Civil Service Ambassador: Nelson Zayas
Nelson Zayas has been a Massachusetts State Trooper for about 14 years, but started his career as a Springfield police officer.
“I always wanted to be in law enforcement. I know it’s such a typical answer to say I like the job because I get to help people, but it’s true,” he said. ” I get to work in the community where I grew up. I was born and raised in Springfield’s North End and I love my city.”
While he has done many community service projects throughout his career one of the things he is most proud of is being on the front lines in Puerto Rico right after Hurricane Maria decimated the island in the fall of 2017.
“I was blessed to be with the first group of law enforcement officers who went to the island to help out,” he said. ” It was an eye opener and it was so sad, but we were able top help the police officers there. We maintained order when there was no power, no food and people were distraught. It was a real honor to help my people during such a difficult time.”
Zayas said he likes to spend his free time with his three children ages 25, 23 and 11 and also working out.
“Having an active and healthy life style is really important to me,” he said.
Zayas said he grew up watching the parade and loved it.
“I think you enjoy it and appreciate it so much more when you’re young. You see all the people dancing, eating and seeing the culture on display, everyone having a great time,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of it and honored to have been selected to represent law enforcement and civil service.”
Sports Ambassador: Juliana Templeman
A student and soccer player at Westfield State University Juliana Templeman is passionate about soccer and teaching the sport to a younger generation of players.
She has participated in the Massachusetts Olympic Development Program. When she was 15, she played for the under-17 Puerto Rico Women’s National Soccer Team.
“I’ve been playing ever since I was really little. I followed my brother and it’s just something I fell in love with and it’s always been a part of my life. I don’t know life without soccer,” she said.
Since high school Templeman has volunteered to coach younger players, particularly in East Longmeadow where she grew up, but also at the Boys & Girls Club in Springfield and Holyoke. For her soccer is more than just a sport.
“With team sports you learn a lot about working well with others. There is a lot of discipline and hard work involved too,” she said.
Templeman’s mom is Puerto Rican and the family has traveled to the island many times, especially when she was younger. On Sunday she will represent the Latin part of her cultural heritage at the parade.
“I have this sense of pride of who I am and what I have become. Bringing Puerto Rico and what I love to do which is playing soccer, bringing those two things together is amazing,” she said.
Youth Ambassador: Blessyd Cotto
Throughout Blessyd Cotto’s life music has been instrumental in her development.
“From when I was a kid this is what felt right. There is nothing else I want to do, there is literally no Plan B,” said Cotto who is studying music at Westfield State University. “I grew up singing and listening to music from different cultures. It’s an important thing in my family. They use it as therapy a lot.”
The singer, songwriter and guitarist said she is influenced by many musical genres.
“Growing up it was mostly Spanish music from either my Puerto Rican dad or my Ecuadorian grandpa, but there was also some oldies, classic rock and pop and funk, ” she said.
Cotto has always shared her love of music with younger kids who are interested in learning music or who may need it during a difficult time in their life.
“I try to uplift kids, especially through music because it is definitely therapy,” she said. ” Music can make you feel happy, it can help you get your anger out. It can help with stress and it’s a great way to bring people together.
Now in college Cotto is hoping to perfect her skills.
“I’m pretty much self taught and I wanted to get an education to master my craft and then who knows where I will go from there,” she said.